The God Who Knows Your Trials
Good morning. It is always a pleasure to speak to you. This morning, we’ll be taking a short break from Pastor Mark’s series “Hymns for Him.” I hope each of you have been enjoying hearing the stories behind so many of the hymns that have been a blessing to the Church as I have. This morning we are going to return to Revelation 2.
As we turn to this chapter, have you ever taken the time to just thank God for the freedoms we enjoy in this nation, particularly of a religious nature? There is no “state religion” in the United States, as could be said of the vast majority of nations throughout history and up until today. We do not live in fear of the police storming our church and arresting us for holding a church service. The government is not mandating the content of the messages that are preached. This is not the case for much of church history, and even in 2022, this is not the case for much of the world.
Last time I spoke with you, I talked about the importance of being a loving church. This morning, we’ll be looking at a different church, the church in Smyrna. To give historical and geographical context, Smyrna was located thirty-five to forty miles north of Ephesus, on the Agean Sea. It’s about the same as the distance between Mansfield and Marion. To this day, you can visit ruins from the ancient city in modern day Turkey. This is a church that had been experiencing trials and persecution. This morning, using the church at Smyrna, we’ll look at three aspects of trials. This morning’s primary text will be Revelation 2:8-11. As I read this morning’s text, I would ask, if you are able, to please stand.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.’" 'I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’”
Our Father and our God, we pray with the psalmist, that our eyes would be opened, that we would behold wondrous things from your Word. We pray in Christ’s Name and for His glory. Amen
#1 - Trials come in VARIOUS KINDS.
Jesus tells the Church in Smyrna, starting at 2:9, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested.” I could probably do a full series just on the various ways the people of God have experienced trials and persecution starting with Abel through today. I won’t turn there now, but a reading through Hebrews 11 should remind us of that. In our Revelation passage, we can see three areas of persecution in Smyrna.
One type of persecution those are experiencing is ECONOMIC. The Christians in Smyrna were experiencing poverty like we could not begin to comprehend.
We can see a parallel to this occurring in England in 1662. In that year, by an act of Parliament, approximately 2,500 pastors were forbidden to teach or preach within five miles of any village, town, or city. Their crime? They would not swear to follow a prescribed set of liturgies set forth by the Church of England. And, at this time in history, there was no social support system like we have today. Many of these men basically starved to death. In times of persecution, there may be economic ramifications.
The Church in Smyrna also dealt with VERBAL persecution. They were being slandered. There were people in Smyrna making false statements regarding the disciples in that city. In this time, it was not uncommon for Christians to be accused of being atheists, since they would not bow down and worship the pagan deities of Rome, and especially since they would not ascribe deity to the Roman Caesar. They were accused of being cannibals, since they were known to eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus, in their celebrations of communion. It’s almost like a political campaign, where one candidate was in the drama club in his high school. The candidate’s opponent would say how his opponent had once “matriculated (went to school) with thespians (actors)”.
The apostle Peter reminds us that insults and verbal attacks should not be a shock for the disciples of Jesus. In 1 Peter 4:12, he says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” The most damaging effects of the prosperity “gospel” is that it trivializes trials, that trials are a sign that you’re not really following Christ. I feel like I say this every time I address you, but I unashamedly say again that coming to Christ does not mean you’ll live the rest of your life without any trials, troubles, or tribulations. It means we have the power to face our trials, troubles, and tribulations empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
In addition to ECONOMIC trials and VERBAL persecution, the disciples in Smyrna experienced PHYSICAL persecution. Physical persecution
can vary. It could be imprisonment, as these believers experienced, as well as countless saints throughout history. It could be physical torture. It could be martyrdom. I’m going to talk about this again a little later. For those of you who are readers, you may want to check out a book called Jesus Freaks. It’s a collection of stories of those who experienced trials up to and including martyrdom.
The apostle Paul was no stranger to trials and persecutions. In 2 Corinthians 11, he gives an example of what he experienced. Starting at verse 24, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” If what the prosperity preachers say is true, then what did God think of Paul? Here was a man who experienced beatings, being without shelter, being in constant peril, even being without food, but can anyone honestly say that Paul wasn’t following Christ?
#2 - All trials are TEMPORARY.
The church in Smyrna was dealing with VARIOUS TRIALS, but Jesus also reminds this congregation that all trials are TEMPORARY. Jesus tells the church, and us, in the middle of Revelation 2:10, “...for ten days you will have tribulation...” Every trial you experience in this life, as a follower of Christ, is temporary. How can I say this? What about the people with terminal illnesses? What about those brothers and sisters who are facing those various trials you just talked about? As I was writing this message, I was thinking of Jen Repp, Jack Nichols, and Loni Baserman. I thought of my niece, Olivia. I was thinking of the health- related trials they all faced. In every single case, their trial did not end. Or did it? Can we agree, based on the testimony of Scripture, that Jen is no longer struggling to breathe, that Jack and Loni are no longer experiencing the effects of cancer, and that Olivia isn’t dancing her heart out? For those of us who are in Christ, even the most long-term suffering will come to an end, when we become glorified in heaven. Even the most painful things to observe and experience will not last forever.
Paul reminds the Corinthians of this very truth. Turn back to 2 Corinthians 4:17. Here Paul reminds us, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Sometimes we emphasize the “light momentary” aspect of our trials, especially when we are talking to someone else. But let’s be real. When you are in the midst of a trial, it feels neither light, nor momentary. But Paul is only calling them” light and momentary” when compared to eternity. Only was we remember what these trails are producing can we see any trial as bearable. Even though your trials seem heavy and will never end, remember what it is producing is far beyond comparison.
#3 - Trials for the disciple of Jesus end in TRIUMPH.
Okay, so we have seen trials are of VARIOUS KINDS. And are TEMPORARY. Trials for the disciple of Jesus will end in TRIUMPH. Revelation 2:8 tells us that this letter contains “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” Please remember that it is Jesus who is the source of these messages. John is recording them, but the message being delivered is from the resurrected, ascended, reigning Son of God. And what does He have to say? He has two things to say to us.
First, at the end of verse 10, Jesus says, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Jesus reminds His people to stay steadfastly faithful to Him, and there will be rewards. This is not to say that our salvation is dependent on the strength of our faith. Our salvation is secure because our Savior is strong, not because we are. But as we suffer for Christ, there is a Crown of Life promised.
Second, in verse 11, Jesus tells us, “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” Later in Revelation, there is a haunting depiction of the destiny of all who have not accepted the gracious gift of redemption in Christ. John refers to it as the second death, of being cast into the Lake of Fire. But the passage we are in this morning states that for the one who conquers, there will be no second death. For those who trust in Christ and in in His finished work, there will be no second death, because Jesus has already paid the sin debt we owed.
This is why we can say, with confidence, along with Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:54 and 55, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” This is not something we just need to hear on Easter, or at funeral services. We need to daily remind ourselves that, through faith, we have no need to fear the grave. This is why, on the cross, Jesus could say, “IT IS FINISHED.”
As we close out our time in God’s Word this morning, there was an event that shows how we can relate to trials. The year was 1555 in London, England. Two pastors were being led to stakes, ready to be burned.What was their crime? They would not affirm the teachings of Queen’s religion, and faithfully taught the Bible. Their names were Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. The religious leaders commanded them to repent of the heresy they were accused of, but they held fast. As they approached the stakes, it’s reported that Ridley’s brother-in-law added more wood, to speed the up the execution. As they were dying, Latimer cried out to Ridley, “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.“
As I think about these last words, that there is now a memorial at the spot where this occurred, and look at the history of the church, and you see names like John Wesley, Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, John Newton, Charles Spurgeon, and Nicky Gimbel, is there any question that, the light still burns in the UK?
At this point in history, we in Richland County are not experiencing the types of trials that the Church of Smyrna was experiencing. But that does not mean we are not going through our own trials and tribulations. We still experience some trials to an extent, outside of persecution. In my time on this earth, I’ve learned there are three relationships when it comes to trials. There are those who are in the midst of a trial, and if this is you, please let us know how we can pray for you. There are those who have just been through a trial, and we would love to rejoice with you. And there are those who are about to enter a trial. At any given moment, you’re probably in all three, just with different situations.
No matter where you are in your trials, whether it’s ECONOMIC, VERBAL, or PHYSICAL, or even a combination of them, remember that the trials you are experiencing are TEMPORARY, and that for the Christ-follower, there is certain TRIUMPH. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.